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Do I need permission to make a parody song to advertise another product that is for sale?

Baltimore, MD |

I want to record a parody song to be used in an online video to promote a product.

The song itself will not use any of the original recording.
It will use all original music, voice and completely different lyrics,
with the goal being to imitate (not exactly duplicate) the instrumentals
and impersonate the original singer's voice and style.
Neither the song, nor the video trailer will ever be sold,
though made available free on the internet, prior to product release for promotion.
The product being promoted will be sold commercially and independently.
It will include neither the song nor the video advertisement.

Do I still need permission from the copyright holders
to make and distribute this parody song and video?


Attorney Answers 3


The line between parody and satire is very thin, and between fair use parody and non-fair use parody it is even thinner. You really need to get your song cleared by an IP lawyer who can review both what you've written and the original. There are a lot of cases that go back and forth on this issue, but the general rule is that, for fair use, you have to be commenting on the original work from which you are working - here, the song - and not another person, thing, or idea. If your parody isn't directed at the song, it has a much, much thinner chance of getting fair use protection. Satire - general commentary on culture - is never enough for fair use, and parody must be criticizing or commenting on the original work to enjoy fair use protection - keep these two rules in mind and have someone check your work.

Also, as the other attorney pointed out, fair use is a defense - it only comes up when you've already been sued. Which means that you're going to end up spending money for a lawyer, anyway, once the artist gets wind of what you're doing to his or her song. It's much better to get out ahead of that by hiring an attorney now who can either tell you your plan is unworkable or help you find a way to make it work.

No information you obtain from this answer is legal advice, nor is it intended to be. You should consult an attorney for individualized advice regarding your situation. No attorney-client relationship is formed by my responding to your question.

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As another frequent poster here can tell you, Weird Al Yankovitch always gets clearance for his parody songs and he has much better argument for free speech, commentary, and fair use than you do with your commercial parody. A judge or jury is more likely to think you are merely a ripoff artist rather than a satirist. Yes, if you want to stay out of court, you need permission, even if technically, you might be able to convince a judge that the primary purpose of your infringement was parody rather than making money. I, for one, think you need to stop in your tracks and drop this idea.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

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Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


As with lots of these Avvo questions, business practicality often outweighs legality. You are here, really, because you inherently seem to know that.. Continue being smart and get yourself out of this mess before you [figuratively speaking] step in it.


Well you don't need permission to produce a parody, but realize that parody is a _defense_ once you've been sued for copyright infringement, and that permission from that possible claimant avoids that concern.

And yes, Weird Al Yankovic sort of ruined it for all song parodists by never picking fights with those whose songs he parodies by giving those songwrighter _all_ of the publishing copyright on the parodies he performs. So even though he writes his own lyrics to their famous songs, he doesn't claim any ownership interest in those songs. And as my colleague notes, his lyrics do comment directly on the song itself and/or on its songwriter, which would greatly increase his odds of winning a parody argument, if he ever engaged in one.

Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.

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